Lima is the capital city of Peru and is filled with an endless amount of treasures to experience from the museums and archaeological sites located throughout the city, to the beautiful Pacific beaches with the adventure sports that take place along the boardwalks and cliffs of the Miraflores district. Lima is the place to visit to taste the famous Peruvian cuisine which can be found in some of the best rated restaurants in South America and Lima also offers multiple nightclubs for people eager to experience the pulsating nightlife!
All this can be found in Lima and makes for an authentic South American experience within a large bustling city! Lima is a huge metropolitan area located on the arid central Pacific Coast of Peru and is actually the second driest world capital after Cairo, Egypt. You can view pre-Columbian adobe pyramids and archaeological sites nestled next to high rise skyscrapers with tons of loud traffic pulsating through the streets below, while you can leisurely stroll through the streets viewing the colonial style architecture of the buildings along with the many Catholic Cathedrals dotted around the city.
Lima has a population of almost 10 million people so it is the most populated city of Peru and is actually the third largest city in the Americas, following only behind Mexico City and Sao Paulo! Lima’s original name was actually Ciudad de los Reyes and was founded by Francisco Pizarro, the Spanish conquistador on January 18, 1535. After the Peruvian War of Independence that took place high in the Andes Mountains surrounding the city of Ayacucho, Lima became the capital of the Republic of Peru!
After experiencing the Ballestas Islands, better known as the Poor Man’s Galapagos and the Paracas National Reserve off the south central coast of Peru, it was nice to visit a sprawling urban city filled with people and chaotic traffic filled streets! It was definitely a different environment compared to the seaside village of Pisco and Paracas, the desert city of Ica and the peaceful oasis of Huacachina. Lima has so many wonderful things to experience, but if you are short on time, these are four places or activities that I recommend visiting while in Lima!
1. Huaca Huallamarca in San Isidro District
Most visitors of Lima don’t realize Lima was a city that had over 40 pyramid like structures that over time the majority have been destroyed as the population of the city continued to grow. This highly religious city with an ancient past was made into a bustling capital for the Spanish crown to have an easy way to take the stolen gold and silver of the Inca Empire back to Spain.
One of the religious pyramids that I would recommend visiting is Huaca Huallamarca. Huaca is an Inca term that means sacred place and this sacred place is now located in the middle of the San Isidro district of Lima surrounded by towering high rise buildings and is in stark contrast to this pyramid that is made of millions of hand made adobe bricks. It really is amazing that throughout the centuries these pyramids have managed to survive, but we can thank mother nature for that as Lima only receives about 1 to 2 inches of rain per year which has made it much easier for these pyramids to maintain their structure.
Huaca Huallamarca is also known as “Pan de Azúar” (Sugar Bread in English) and has the same name as it’s more famous cousin in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, which is a natural wonder and not an archaeological site.
Huaca Huallamarca was originally built by the Lima culture between 200 BC and 700 AD and served as a place to worship. This is when the large pyramid structure was built. Following this period the site was used by the Ishma culture around the 11th century when it became more of a cemetery or burial ground complex and no longer was used as a temple. During this period the burials became more sophisticated which helped those remains to have survived until today in the form of mummies. The individual’s body was wrapped in cotton and woven cloths which helped to preserve the remains of the mummy.
When they laid the wrapped bodies to rest, they also placed offerings, such as ceramic pots, textiles, decorated gourds, musical instruments, tools, food and other valuable objects as the offerings for the Gods. The Incas were the last to inhabit the pyramid during the 15th and 16th centuries and during this time the site was used as a settlement instead of for religious or burial purposes.
The Inca’s added home dwellings and storage areas. Huaca Huallamarca has a small museum that showcases the archaeological importance of the site, as well as showcasing the preserved mummies, along with the multiple artifacts excavated from the pyramid’s burial grounds, such as ceramic pots, textiles, decorated gourds and other historical objects.
2. Centro Historico de Lima – Historic Center of Lima – Plaza Mayor – Plaza de Armas de Lima.
No visit to Lima is complete without visiting Plaza Mayor, which is also known as Plaza de Armas. This is probably the most visited and touristy area of Lima. It’s a beautiful colonial plaza that is surrounded by the Cathedral of Lima, along with the Government Municipal Palace. The Basilica Cathedral of Lima is one of the main focal points of Plaza Mayor. It is a Roman Catholic cathedral and was constructed in 1535 and has survived earthquakes and still has its colonial structure and facade. The Government Palace of Peru is also another focal point of Plaza Mayor. In Spanish, it’s called the Palacio de Gobierno and not only houses the executive branch of the Peruvian Government, but is also the official residence of the President of Peru. Just like the Cathedral of Lima, it was also built in 1535 and was actually built over a huge huaca, which was an Inca term that means sacred place. The Government Palace is surrounded on one side by the Plaza Mayor and the other by the Rímac River that runs through downtown Lima.
Over time as the city grew up with the high rise buildings, the city center of Lima was preserved and now this historic center of Lima has been recognized as a World Heritage Site since 1991. The colonial architecture can be seen around the plaza and walking from one block to the next through the historic center with the multiple colonial buildings with open air court yards with large second story balconies protruding over the street below. You can easily spend hours walking around the history area of Lima viewing the architecture and becoming lost in the history of the city! Make sure to spend a few hours in the surrounding areas of the city center enjoying what Lima has to offer.
3. The Monastery of San Francisco (Basílica y Convento de San Francisco de Lima)
The monastery of San Francisco or known in Spanish as the Basílica y Convento de San Francisco de Lima is very easy to visit as it is in the historic center of Lima, only one block away from Plaza Mayor! Also, if your goal is to see hundreds of pigeons or even to feed them, then this is the place to come as there are pigeons everywhere. You can easily feed the pigeons as there are plenty of people selling bird seed to keep the pigeons coming back. This is an interesting place to visit because not only is there a church and monastery, but they have a huge courtyard as well as a library and the most interesting thing is the catacombs below the church. The building of the church started in 1687 and wasn’t finished until 1746. Major renovations then occurred in 1970 after an earthquake cause major damage to the building.
The church is a wonderful example of Spanish Baroque architecture. One of the most fascinating things about this church and for some people, the most frightening thing is the catacombs that are located beneath the church. These catacombs contain thousands of skulls and bones as this was a burial place until 1808 when the city built a cemetery outside the city limits of Lima. The catacombs were built from bricks and luckily have survived the multiple earthquakes unlike the church above. It is believed that there are over 75,000 bodies within the catacombs and as you walk beneath the church and through the crypts, you can see many of the skulls and bones placed throughout the catacombs. If you are claustrophobic or squeamish I would not suggest touring the catacombs.
Some people might not want to venture beneath the church and that’s okay because the church is beautiful inside along with the open air courtyard that is a nice peaceful and resting area to relax from the hustle and bustle of the city.
4. Miraflores Boardwalk
The Miraflores Boardwalk or what is called the ‘malecón’ in Spanish is a six mile stretch along the cliffs of the Pacific Ocean with numerous parks and green spaces you can visit that are great for outdoor activities like walking, running and cycling. If you are just visiting the city, you can easily rent a bike to enjoy the beautiful and stunning cliff top parks, which offer amazing views of the jagged Pacific Coast.
You can easily spend the early evening watching the sun set into the Pacific Ocean or enjoy people watching as the residents of Lima, locally called Limeños, and tourists alike, come and go in this very active and upscale area of Lima. The district of Miraflores has spent a lot of time building beautiful green spaces along El Malecón which has helped to improve Lima’s name recognition as the Garden City. Along the boardwalk you can see many statues created by Peruvian artists. One of the most famous statues, called ‘El Beso’, showcases a couple embracing each other and is located within Parque del Amor, (Love Park in English) which is appropriately titled as many lovers meet in the park to embrace and kiss each other!
Just a few minutes walk north of Parque del Amor is the primary location where you can jump off the cliffs along the malecón and paraglide over the Miraflores coastal area and get a bird’s eye view of the jagged cliffs from the constant pacific winds coming off the ocean. It’s a beautiful sight to see so many paragliders flying over the Malecón de Miraflores! I never got the opportunity to actually paraglide in Lima, but I enjoyed watching all the adventurous people fly above Miraflores and I can only imagine the beautiful city views they were able to experience! If I am fortunate enough to visit Lima again in the future I definitely plan to do this as it is at the top of my list of things to do!
Another part of the Miraflores Malecón that I would suggest visiting is Larcomar, a multilevel shopping, food and entertainment complex that is actually built into the cliffs above the Pacific Coast. It has some breathtaking ocean views of the coastal area and if you like shopping, this is a place that should be on the top of your list. It is also a great place to watch the sun set over the Pacific Ocean.
In summary, Lima has so many other things to see and do that can easily keep you busy for multiple days, but these are just four treasures of traveling in the capital of Peru that I would suggest that you visit on either a short or long stay in Lima!